Al Sharpton is in trouble. I'll give you a moment to catch your breath from the shock.
During a debate on Monday with Christopher Hitchens, Sharpton said in reference to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that "As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that. That's a temporary situation." Cue headlines.
Now, this is obviously not intended as a defense of Sharpton, as none of the Mormons I've ever known ever gave me reason to believe they didn't actually believe in God. But consider:
· Back in the summer of 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, a state the organization called "a stronghold of Satan" specifically because of the high Mormon presence there.
· Just three years ago, Mormons were specifically excluded from the "National Day of Prayer" event organized by James Dobson's wife Shirley.
· Earlier this year, a manager of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Missions Board said that Mormonism was inconsistent with Christian teaching and that "Our concern is that they don't really know the God of the Bible. So we're concerned for their salvation."
· Also earlier this year, evangelical radio host Charles Colson told his listeners that "while Mormons share some beliefs with Christians, they are not Christians."
So while Sharpton's comment was crude and impolitic, let's not act like he's the first person who ever cast aspersions on the true Christianity of the Mormon church. This is a divide that's existed for a long time and that has manifested itself in some rather ugly ways. And there's probably a real news story here about whether evangelical Christians will accept or vote for a Mormon for president, but that issue isn't going to get addressed if the news media are only looking for easy ways to get Al Sharpton in front of a TV camera again. (And you know that Sharpton just hates being thrown in that briar patch to begin with.)